Remember the fight or flight syndrome I talked about in earlier posts? Most of us live in this state, perpetually ready to react to any stressor. By the time we get home, hormones like cortisol and catecholamines, required to fight or flee and the resulting tension and have overwhelmed us.
Constricted muscles limit blood flow, oxygen and nutrients are diminished, inflammation, and pain ensue. For many, it’s just another routine day.
There’s a simple and effective way to stop this pattern.
I used to love getting a massage. But lately it is too painful. Forcing myself into positions that allows access to my back overwhelms any benefit I might gain. One minute the pressure is too much, the next too little. It’s not worth the effort. Fortunately there are techniques I can do at home.
Through kneading, pressing and rubbing the skin and underlying muscles, the physical and emotional stressors of the day melt away.
What is self massage?
All our senses need to be stimulated every day. Just like your ears, eyes, tongue and nose require stimuli to hear, see, taste and smell, our skin needs attention too. Sadly, with the Covid pandemic we’ve been deprived of close contact and became isolated, losing human touch that the body desperately craves. Especially hugs, which set off a cascade of good feeling hormones to rejuvenate and calm us.
Self massage can change that. By stimulating pressure receptors under the skin, we increase activity in the vagus nerve. This nerve activity has been shown to reduce stress and even illness. Self massage uses techniques you can easily do yourself to reduce muscle tightness and trigger points.
It’s easy, use your hands, fingers and elbows to accomplish this goal. We all know the basic skills- rubbing our temples to relieve a headache or squeezing the back of our neck and stretching to relieve neck pain. You can even add simple tools such as a tennis ball, foam rollers or a trigger point massager that relieves knots in the muscles to enhance the experience.
Why it helps
Having the option to relieve, or at least diminish, our own pain is an important part of living with chronic pain. Feeling out of control and helpless contributes to the never ending cycle that wears us down. Learning techniques that allow us to intervene and manage it is imperative. Especially at the end of a long day, or the middle of the night when no one else is available.
In one study, participants who received self massage treatments combined with home exercises had less pain during daytime activities than those who had six physical therapy treatments alone. Put them together and there was even more improvement seen.
- Decreases pain at specific areas of concern by releasing spasms and soreness. Research has shown that those who received a massage decreased delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise or increased activity by 30%.
- Improves sleep by reducing stress and lessening pain.
- Reduces anxiety and depression by significantly lowering levels of circulating cortisol and catecholamines levels- hormones that increase stress and anxiety. Participants who received twice weekly massages for five weeks also showed calmer brain waves patterns on an EEG.
- Calms the mind and body by promoting a deep state of relaxation and rejuvenation which leads to a cascade of beneficial effects- less anxiety and stress hormones, better circulation, lymphatic drainage and detoxifying skin impurities.
- Enhances alertness. One study showed the massage group had decreased frontal alpha and beta waves on an EEG which correlates with better awareness as well as increased speed and accuracy when solving math problems.
- Enhances immune function. Those who gave themselves a daily massage for one month saw an increase in cells that boost immunity.
- Lessens swelling and inflammation by manipulating the exact site of concern and encouraging nutrient and oxygen flow to the affected sites.
- Creates a sense of self love. It promotes acceptance and nurturing.
- You are in control. This is a great way to easily, quickly and cheaply intervene as often as needed.
- Gives greater and more long lasting benefit to exercise programs. Painful, tight, inflamed muscles are far harder to work on then relaxed ones, often ending therapy programs before they start.
As opposed to a spa it is :
- Less expensive
- Less time consuming
- Can focus on specific concerns
- See Immediate results
- Accessible anywhere anytime offering moments of relief throughout the day.
- In this day of COVID there’s no exposure to someone else’s touch or facility.
Clear with your provider before using in some circumstances:
- burns and healing wounds
- bleeding disorders
- while using certain medications such as blood thinners
- deep vein thrombosis
- severe osteoporosis or severely low blood platelets
- contagious skin infection
How do I start?
Just a few minutes a day can be enough to see improvements.
- Start with two sessions- morning and night.
- Tease out the areas that are most painful, especially those that chronically feel “ like rocks”. Mine are at my shoulder blades and neck.
- Start with pressure that’s tolerable, but gets the job done. If sore the next day decrease the intensity.
- Get even more benefits by stretching and mobilizing after the massage. Warmed up, relaxed muscles have better range of motion and endurance.
- Add warm oils to help deepen the massage, reduce friction and depending on the herbal preparation induce a pacifying, stimulating or cleansing effect.
Whether it’s at work, in the car, at a stoplight, in the tub or in bed, self massage gets me through the day. It can be the answer to getting through yours as well. Next week I’ll go into detail on specific massage techniques for a multitude of areas.